How did encounters with new evangelicals affect the Brethren in Christ in the middle decades of the twentieth century? By this time, the church was in the midst of a crisis. Elements of their traditional “plain” culture were gradually falling away. Many feared that the church might split apart. Stagnating from a lack of new converts, divided over issues of doctrine and practice, and struggling to expand their network of schools, missions, and benevolent institutions, the Brethren in Christ Church had reached a tipping point. “Traditionalists” pressed for a renewed emphasis on the distinctive elements of church life and practice; “progressives” pleaded for exercise of individual conscience, often while modifying or even abandoning formal teachings and acknowledged practices.
In their quest for a new denominational identity, both the traditionalists and progressives found a useful model in the new evangelicalism. These Christians professed the same beliefs as the Brethren in Christ, but demonstrated a more accommodating approach to American politics, society, and popular culture. For the progressives, the new evangelicals professed a faith that made sense to the “present generation” and allowed individuals to take responsibility for their own beliefs and practices. For the traditionalists, the new evangelicals represented Christianity’s capitulation to “the world” — a travesty they hoped would not befall the Brethren in Christ Church.
Whether viewed by Brethren in Christ as a potential system of liberation or as an encroachment to be opposed, new evangelicalism became a major influence on the church community — and a major force in shaping the church’s postwar culture. As they ratified, resisted, and reformed the new evangelicalism, Brethren in Christ church members were “born again.”